June 2003
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Location. Location. Location: Why Do Canadians Live Where They Do?
by Rachael Hildebrand, Grade 12, Garden Valley Collegiate, Winkler, MB

Visible minorities know that they are the first to be noticed in a community. But have you ever looked around and wondered why certain races or groups of people are not present?

When I read that February was Black History Month in Canada, I wondered why so few Afro-Canadians have chosen to live in Southern Manitoba where I live. Mike Whitehouse, a teacher at Coal Harbour District High School in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, lives in an area that has enjoyed significant Black immigration. He gave me a brief historical explanation of why Afro-Blacks settled in his region of Canada. After the American War of Independence in 1776, Blacks who were loyal to England were given land in Nova Scotia. During the American Civil war from 1860-1865, Blacks who escaped slavery found their way to Nova Scotia through the Underground Railway. Following the American Civil War, many Blacks who had been freed from slavery also came to Nova Scotia to start a new life. These three avenues described by Mr. Whitehouse demonstrate that people of a certain group are most likely to live where there are others like themselves. Since Manitoba did not yet exist as a settled part of Canada at the time of the American Revolution or its Civil War, it was not then a prospective location for Black immigration.

I recently interviewed one of the few people in my area who originates from South Africa. Marion Polischuk, born 30 minutes from Johannesburg in Springs, Dauteng (used to be called Transball), recalls that she and the rest of her family struggled to fit into the rural community of Winkler, Manitoba. Their African background was visibly different from the dominantly Mennonite one. The Polischuk children found it hard to fit in at school, often being misunderstood because of their different culture. The struggle and need to fit in does not diminish over time; it has always been one of humanity's greatest challenges.

When immigrating to a different country or moving to a different city, the need to be accepted usually dominates the thoughts and social activities of the people involved. Controversy seems to swirl around differences in language, tradition and culture. Often, this is a result of non-acceptance, preconceived ideas, and stereotypes that have been handed down throughout the generations. Reducing racial tensions is something that Nova Scotia based Mike Whitehouse knows a lot about. Whitehouse, a school improvement facilitator, states that there are many things others can do to reduce racial tensions. Two important steps are to provide equal opportunity in the workplace and in schools, and to establish educational programs to teach people to recognize and eliminate racism. Also high on Whitehouse's list of ways to reduce racial tensions are opening the lines of communication and building bridges among cultures and communities.

Racial discrimination has many causes and solutions, but the pain inflicted is something that does not readily disappear. Getting to the root of the problem is often easier than taking the pain away, even for a brief moment, since the problem stems from wrong thinking. Wrong thinking can be easier to correct than to heal the hurts it brings on. "Power and economics are among the root causes of racial discrimination," Whitehouse states. "Disadvantaged groups were used for the economic advantage of those who have been in power. Slavery is an example of this. Just because slavery is gone, don't assume that discrimination is still not happening at some levels. Education is key to providing equality."

Once people understand the reasons behind discrimination, they will be more accepting of other cultures and people of other backgrounds. Polischuk explains that once her daughter married a Mennonite man, there was complete acceptance of their family into the Winkler community. As the years had passed, there had been a gradual acceptance of the Polischuk family, but marriage served as community's ultimate act of acceptance.

Marion Polischuk highlights one a reason why many Afro-Canadians today do not choose to live in Winkler. Since there are many people in Winkler who are somehow related to each other, she says, 'outsiders' might find it hard to break into the community and to feel accepted. Family is important in any culture and may significantly influence decisions to move. In both the Nova Scotia Black culture and the Manitoba Mennonite one, there is a similar sense of the importance of family. Family has a lot to do with upbringing, teaching children them what is right and wrong, influencing both their ideas and actions. Since family binds people together so powerfully, it can also exert a lot of influence over new people who come into a community.

While Winkler, Manitoba is not now an area that attracts Afro-Canadians, it could become one. Peace is generally found within the borders of Winkler, a fact that many residents take for granted. "There was lots of violence and crime," Polischuk says, thinking of her former home in South Africa, "mostly due to the poverty stricken country, with little children running around with no shoes and tattered clothes." Since peace is so prevalent in our country and in Winkler, people everywhere can start taking advantage of this very powerful tool. Opportunities present themselves everyday for people to meet and welcome a new person of any race into their lives. It would be sad to miss out on the chance of getting to know someone's heart just because that person's skin might be of a different color, or that person does not wear the right kind of clothes. For many people, Winkler offers a strong positive community, with a welcoming atmosphere and friendly neighbors. However, as the early experience of the Polischuk family shows, there is room for improvement.

There is great value in welcoming new people and faces into one's life and community. A life without variety is boring - like a world with only one kind of candy. Different people and cultures bring flavor into life. Diversity in people brings new things to talk about, new occasions to laugh at, and new eyes out of which to see. The people in our lives are part of what makes us who we are as individuals, and as community, teaching us about life and helping us to walk through it. They remind us of who we are, and at the same time let us be our unique selves. It is truly amazing to see what can happen when people decide to put aside their differences and see what they have in common, letting those differences become things that unite them rather than divide them. As R.G. Lee once said, "Together the links make the chain, together the shingles make the roof, together the bricks make the wall, united we stand, divided we fall."


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